Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving

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Free of Charge Miroslav VolfIf you love digging into serious theology, this book is for you! It is Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, by Miroslav Volf (2005: Zondervan). Miroslav Volf is not lightweight: Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. At the same time, he is a humble, personable presenter who offers his thinking in an accessible way.

What makes this book intriguing is how the multiple levels of Volf’s stewardship theology fit together as a whole. He links God’s giving and forgiving with how we can give and forgive, and with what makes it possible for us to even begin such a radically transformative process.

I am still savoring Free of Charge a few paragraphs at a time, but here’s one link between generosity and community: “The best gift we can give each other may be neither a thing (like a diamond ring) nor an act (like an embrace), but our own generosity. With that ‘indescribable gift’ called Christ, God gave us a generous self and a community founded on generosity. Such a self bestows gifts freely. It gives because it delights in the beloved and can’t endure the need of the needy. In giving, it subverts hierarchies and transforms rivalries into mutual exaltations. And in all of this, it forges lasting bonds of reciprocal love. At the most basic level, generosity itself is exchanged in all our gift exchanges: My generosity is reciprocated by your generosity, and the circle of mutual love keeps turning.” (p. 87)

Here’s another nugget: Volf says that God’s gifts to us oblige us to do four things:

1. Be receptive, realizing we are receivers who live on God’s given breath.

2. Be grateful for the wonder of being here “as fruits of God’s creativity and objects of God’s blessing” (p. 47)

3. Be available to participate in God’s work benefitting the creation.

4. Participate in God’s gift-giving to others, which in turn transforms us.

Happy reading! Or re-reading; it’s worth it.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

‘Tis the Season

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By now, those of us who attend worship somewhere most likely have noticed that ‘tis the season for financial commitment programs – what many church leaders call “stewardship campaigns.” It’s when we think about God’s overwhelming generosity of blessings in our lives, and respond by financially supporting God’s work right here on earth, primarily through our local church.

Although it’s a customary term, “campaign” is an odd word to use, since it implies either a military action or a political one – neither of which point to the fullness of generous-hearted living! And yes, “stewardship” includes our giving money, but it’s also so much more – from gratitude to firstfruits living; from care for relationships to use of time; from justice advocacy to wise financial management; from spiritual formation to all of our nonverbal, passionate witness.

But Shower of gold heartswhatever words we use, hopefully our hearts are in the right place. Hopefully we’re thinking about God’s gifts of forgiveness and love; of life and all creation; of Jesus Christ; of the Holy Spirit; of our lives and all that go with them. Hopefully we’re praying, watching and listening for the Creator-Redeemer’s words and presence specifically to us. Whatever our finances, hopefully we’re responding to God with a whole-hearted “Yes!” and eagerly participating in God’s work.

May every time of the year be this kind of season.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Multitasking

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hourglassMultitasking is something much of our North American work world takes for granted. I used to be proud of how much of it I could do, in my ministry and in the family. (What can I say? I’m an unrepentant “J” in Myers-Briggs language.) I even excelled in doing it mentally. I used to say, “If I plan to do ten things today, there’s a better chance I’ll get to eight instead of five.” It was a kind of inner competition with myself.

But now, of course, as time marches on in this getting-older body, it’s not as easy to get to it all – or to remember to get back to all that I started. So it was a relief to realize it’s not just a “senior” matter. Apparently multitasking can be a distraction at any age. Studies have shown that multitasking is bad for the kind of cognitive work required in a classroom. It has a negative effect on memory and recall (Uh oh). And the presence of other students’ electronic devices even distracts those who aren’t using them. The result is loss of focus as a collaborative process.1

There’s a certain simplicity in doing one thing at a time, being fully present to it. I confess I’m still hooked on doing multiple things at once. It is an addiction, after all. But I’m working on it . . . alongside everything else. . . .

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

 

1 – Sept. 25, ’14 Washington Post, cited in the Oct. 29, ’14 Christian Century

Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving

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If you love digging into serious theology, this book is for you! It is Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, by Miroslav Volf (2005: Zondervan). Miroslav Volf is not lightweight: Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. At the same time, he is a humble, personable presenter who offers his thinking in an accessible way.

What makes this book intriguing is how the multiple levels of Volf’s stewardship theology fit together as a whole. He links God’s giving and forgiving with how we can give and forgive, and with what makes it possible for us to even begin such a radically transformative process.

I am still savoring Free of Charge a few paragraphs at a time, but here’s one link between generosity and community: “The best gift we can give each other may be neither a thing (like a diamond ring) nor an act (like an embrace), but our own generosity. With that ‘indescribable gift’ called Christ, God gave us a generous self and a community founded on generosity. Such a self bestows gifts freely. It gives because it delights in the beloved and can’t endure the need of the needy. In giving, it subverts hierarchies and transforms rivalries into mutual exaltations. And in all of this, it forges lasting bonds of reciprocal love. At the most basic level, generosity itself is exchanged in all our gift exchanges: My generosity is reciprocated by your generosity, and the circle of mutual love keeps turning.” (p. 87)

Here’s another nugget: Volf says that God’s gifts to us oblige us to do four things:

  1. Be receptive, realizing we are receivers who live on God’s given breath.
  2. Be grateful for the wonder of being here “as fruits of God’s creativity and objects of God’s blessing” (p. 47)
  3. Be available to participate in God’s work benefitting the creation.
  4. Participate in God’s gift-giving to others, which in turn transforms us.

Happy reading! Or re-reading; it’s worth it.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub